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Author Archive

Samba, Memories and Regrets   1 comment

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The Air You Breathe by Frances De Pontes Peebles gifts readers with an expansive, beautifully-written view of the ebbs and flows of deep friendships.

Dores, whose existence is shaped by her role as an orphan on a Brazilian sugar plantation, narrates the story. Her life changes when Graca, the spoiled, young daughter of the sugar cane baron, arrives. The two are opposites in every way. It is no surprise that their attraction is the impetus for their future endeavors.

Since there are no other children her age, Graca’s parents enlist Dores as playmate and study companion for their daughter. Despite spending much of her life up to this point working in the kitchen, Dores is a good student, much better than her friend.  Yet, Garca possesses all of the advantages that will contribute to her success: beauty, a mesmerizing voice, a strong will and privilege.

The narrative begins with Dores looking back on her past, specifically the success of Graca, who becomes legendary Samba singer Sofia Salvador. The trajectory from rural Brazil to Rio de Janeiro to Hollywood is more than a rags-to-riches story. Each chapter begins, or ends depending on perspective, with the lyrics Dores has written and made famous by Sofia/Graca.

The characters are lively, the street scenes vibrant and the pulse of the 1930s and ‘40s sets the rhythm. The connection between the two women is full of joy and anguish, frustration and pride. Dores and Graca need each other, despite often wishing this was not the case.

The Air You Breathe
Five Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
449 pages

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Checking Out a Library Book   Leave a comment

The Library Book

The Library Book might be better titled The Los Angeles Central Library Book. Author Susan Orlean provides an exhaustive history of the downtown LA library. The 1986 fire that destroyed four-hundred- thousand books and other materials including periodical, numerous collections and caused extensive damage to the building is the starting point for her overview.

The fire, how it started and efforts to rebuild are the most engaging aspects. While the Central Library isn’t exactly a phoenix rising from the ashes, it’s close. Arson is suspected and one suspect, since deceased, is profiled in great detail. Harry Peak is a charismatic wanna-be actor. He was also a chronic liar. He lied to friends, family, arson investigators and attorneys.

Orlean incorporates a fun, clever approach to each chapter citing four references that provide context for what will follow. For example, it’s clear from the sources cited that Chapter 11 will be about fund raising.

Where the narrative bogs down is in the history of the library’s various directors. Granted, some were more colorful, more resourceful, less interesting, less impactful than others. These chapters were on the dry side.

The most fascinating aspects, in addition to the learning about the fire itself, were learning about the librarians, their specific job descriptions and their commitments to the library and its patrons.

It’s clear Orlean has a deep respect for the roles libraries serve, but there was too much in her book that is the stuff of trivia competitions, something that doesn’t appeal to me.

The Library Book
3 Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2018
319 pages (including notes)

Mythology Brought to Life   Leave a comment

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Circe by Madeline Miller is a who’s who of Greek mythology in the best way possible. This is a tale of desire through its various expressions, mortality/immortality and love in its many different forms.

Miller has fictionalized the life of Circe, the Greek goddess. It was she who transformed the beautiful nymph, Scylla, into the six-headed sea monster responsible for the deaths of numerous sailors in a narrow channel linking two seas.

Circe, the unfavored daughter of Helios the sun god and Perse, is exiled to the island of Aiaia. Despite her isolation, she comes in contact with others associated with the Odyssey. Before she meets Odysseus, however, Hermes, Jason, Medea and Daedalus are among those she encounters.

She is granted a brief respite from exile to assist her sister who gives birth to the Minotaur. Daedalus, father of Icarus, builds the labyrinth in which the half-man half-bull was confined. Circe and the mortal craftsman return to Aiaia. While this is a significant relationship, it is Odysseus who later claims Circe’s heart. This despite  transforming his men into pigs and knowing his wife, Penelope, awaits his return.

In exile, Circe is only deprived of constant companionship. Otherwise, all of her needs are met. She discovers, through trial and error, the powers of the flora around her. Readers also learn the gods are ageless – to such an extent that Circe is hundreds of years old, with no physical evidence. Ultimately, this serves as a catalyst for her to attempt her greatest transformation ever.

Circe
Five Bookmarks
Little, Brown & Co., 2018
393 pages

An Unlikely Murderesss   Leave a comment

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Maud is the 88-year-old Elderly Lady up to No Good in Swedish writer Helene Tursten’s terse collection of short stories.

Most of what Maud is up to is murder. She’s an unlikely bad guy (gal), and not just because she’s a woman, It happens that murder is the way she solves a lot of problems; they are often not even her own issues.

Alone and living rent-free in a Gothenburg apartment, Maud’s housing situation is challenged when a demanding artist moves into a smaller apartment. Maud grew up in the spacious living area she still inhabits. A clause in her late father’s will stated that she and her older sister would be allowed to remain until their deaths. Her sister has been dead for 40 years and Maud has no intention of relinquishing her apartment anytime soon.

When not busy plotting how to rid herself from the artist’s attention, she enjoys traveling. Although each of the five stories is a stand-alone narrative, all are tied to Maud’s apartment and travels. The latter often provides an alibi.

Tursten’s writing is witty . The main character takes advantage of ageism and misperceptions to get away with, literally, murder. Even though Maud is not a sympathetic character her actions are not completely unjustified. Extreme certainly, but often warranted.

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good
Four Bookmarks
Soho Press, 2018
171 pages

Always Time for Cake   Leave a comment

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Even if there’s no birthday celebration on the near horizon, Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali will make you wishing for a piece of homemade cake.

Reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” Parkin introduces readers to Angel, who bakes cakes in her apartment and helps, by design or coincidence, her friends and neighbors solve problems of which they are often unaware and in the process dealing with her own.

Angel and her husband Pius are originally from Tanzania, but have moved to Kigali, Rwanda, because of his consulting job. Their two grown children have died from AIDS leaving behind their five children in the care of Angel and Pius. Angel’s grief for the deaths of her adult offspring lies just beneath the surface, overshadowed by her involvement with others and dealing with hot flashes.

Angel bakes cakes for all occasions. Her clients visit her home where she makes them tea while discussing the type of cake that will be most suitable. Some clients have a clear, specific idea in mind, while others are less certain.

Angel is always happy to offer suggestions, although she might sometimes disagree with the reason for which the cake is celebrating/acknowledging.

Parkin introduces a variety of characters representing a range of life experiences and means. Each is carefully portrayed making it easy to share Angel’s sympathies or distrust. Initially it seems that each chapter is a separate, independent story, but they all come together in a fun, albeit predictable, fashion.

Baking Cakes in Kigali
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Delacorte Press, 2009
308 pages

Posted March 31, 2019 by bluepagespecial in Uncategorized

Mexican Food In,well, Mexico   Leave a comment

A recent trip to Mexico, as with previous visits, was a sensory treat. Besides the beautiful sites, thanks to the generosity of my cousins in San Luis Potosi in the central part of the country, we were indulged with exceptional meals.

enchilladas potosinas

I’d heard about enchiladas Potosinas, and was happy they were served the night of arrival. This set the bar for subsequent foods. Shaped more like empanadas, red sauce-infused corn tortillas are stuffed with cheese and salsa. They’re lightly fried for a crispy exterior texture that contrasts with the creamy cheese filling.

My cousins provided numerous opportunities to sample other dishes popular in the region, including gorditas, sincronizadas, chiliaquilles, enmolladas and fundido with chorizo.

fundido

Sincronizadas can best be described as stacked quesadillas. Ham, cheese, salsa between layers of flour tortillas made this an especially flavorful brunch that also included beans and freshly-made green salsa. Although, normally served as a snack or simple meal, molletes were added to the menu simply because my cousin knows I like them and it was our last day in Mexico. It was far too much food, yet far too difficult to stop eating.

chilaquilles2

Part of our trip we began one day in Guanajuato with chilaquilles covered with pasilla sauce and ended it with enmolladas (mole enchiladas) and tamarindo margaritas in San Miguel de Allende. Not a bad way to dine/visit.

Tacos are part of the national cuisine, so our stay would have been incomplete without them. Fortunately, the tacos al pastor, among others, at Taqueria Arandas ensured our palates, and stomachs, were well-sated.

tacos al pastor

Not in Kansas Anymore — or Ever   Leave a comment

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The land of Oz serves as the backdrop in Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts, but it’s more than a look behind the green curtain where the wizard was hiding.

The novel’s timeline alternates between 1938 when filming on the MGM classic took place and the life of Maud Baum, whose husband Frank authored the beloved series.

Beginning in 1871, this novel, based on fact, chronicles Maud’s childhood as the daughter of a suffragette, her experience at Cornell University where she was one of 19 women in a class with more than 200 men, and how she came to meet, then marry Baum.

The chapters set in 1938 show Maud striving to impress upon the movie’s power team the importance of staying true to her husband’s book. This, she’s convinced, depends on Judy Garland being able to project Dorothy’s innocence and hope. Maud sees this threatened by the movie studio’s efforts to control Garland through a regimen of diet and sleeping pills. Thus, Maud reaches out to protect the young actress.

The chapters concentrating on Maud’s life are a glimpse into the whimsical nature of her husband, the efforts for women’s right to vote, hardscrabble life on the North Dakota plains and her struggle to find meaning in her own life.

Letts deftly defines the various time frames and landscapes. Even though readers know the ultimate success of the movie, it’s Maud’s growth that is most captivating. How Frank came to write the Oz stories their popularity merely provides the framework.

Finding Dorothy
Four Bookmarks
Ballantine Books 2019
351 pages